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MLB: The rise of Jeremy Pena

Jeremy Pena was always in the Houston Astros system to replace Carlos Correa but they never expected to have to move Pena up to the big leagues so soon.

It's been a meteoric rise for the 25-year-old which saw him win a World Series ring and land the Most Valuable Player Award in the Fall Classic.

Replacing Correa

It was the Atlanta Braves that first saw something in Pena. They selected him in the 39th round of the 2015 MLB draft but Pena chose not to sign with them and instead headed to the University of Maine, playing in various leagues until the 2018 MLB draft.

Pena was eventually drafted in the third round in 2018 by Houston, who added the shortstop to their taxi squad in the 2021 season to mainly use him from the bench.

At 24 years of age, he was handed the starting job at the beginning of the season after Correa left as a free agent to the Minnesota Twins. The expectation for Pena was that he was going to be defence-first shortstop.

The rookie had a .263 batting average in the first half of the season with 13 home runs and ended the 2022 campaign with an average of .253 with 22 home runs overall. Ironically, Pena tied with Correa in sixth place for the most home runs among all MLB Shortstops.

Speaking to the official Houston Astros' website, former General Manager James Click said: "He just looked the part of a very talented major league shortstop. Letting go of Carlos was obviously a very difficult decision. Not easy by any means, but these are the kind of things we have to do in order to keep this franchise winning, to be able to withstand the inevitable losses.

"We were extremely confident that he would be able to hold down shortstop from a defensive position and add value that way. The offence, not that it was gravy, but it gave us a high confidence of where the floor was for him."

Pena's success has been part of the Astros' evolution into a modern-day dynasty, a player development factory with established veterans and young rising stars like Yordan Alvarez, Framber Valdez plus Cristian Javier.

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An Old Head On Young Shoulders

Pena wasn't fazed in Game Five of the World Series, with a home run and driving in two runs to help put the Astros one win from the Championship. In the end, Pena became the first rookie to win a World Series MVP, he also won a Gold Glove and was the American League Championship series MVP.

Pena posted a combined .345 batting average throughout the postseason and his nine extra-base hits (seven in the LCS and WS) are a big reason why he won honours both in the American League Championship and the World Series.

Speaking to the official Houston Astros' website about his debut season, Pena said: "The hardest part was just blocking everything that's not part of the game. There's a saying that you can't sink a ship with water around. It sinks if water gets inside. So I just try to stay strong and keep the water outside my head.

"You dream about this stuff when you're a kid. Shout out to my teammates. We show up every single day. We stayed true to ourselves all year and we achieved our ultimate goal."

Pena also spoke in glowing terms about his manager, Dusty Baker, adding: "Dusty Baker's a legend in the sport. Not just because he’s been around. He's had success at this game. He brings the best out of his players. He gives you the confidence to just go out and play hard and let the game take care of itself."

Pena will be just 25 for nearly all of the 2023 season and some pundits may predict a sophomore slump after a Rookie of the Year - leading first campaign. In some respects, he's just getting started. The Astros are 11/2 to repeat their World Series achievement in 2023.

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